You see us
as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal.
Correct? That’s the way we saw each other at seven o’clock this morning.
We were brainwashed…
Here’s an exercise: try explaining what the words jock, nerd, dork and geek mean to your children without resorting to stereotypes.
A commute on the train the other day found my husband and I attempting to define these words to our curious children without falling back on”kids that like science and math” or “kids that play sports to the point of exclusivity” or “kids that aren’t ‘cool‘.” Because, well, we want our kids to like science and math and play sports and yes, even think of themselves as cool, whatever their definition of cool happens to be. And though labels such as geek and nerd have enjoyed a kind of reverse-cool renaissance, semantics are tough to explain to an eight year old. So we sat there, struggling. And we ended up giving them the plot of a string of John Hughes movies as examples.
I was a teenager at the time John Hughes was making movies about teenagers. And just as I’m sure the Boomer generation related to Beach Blanket Bingo and longed for Annete Funnicello’s beehive, Mr. Hughes made movies which captured what it felt like to be a teenager in the 80s the way no one else did. The Breakfast Club. Sixteen Candles. Pretty in Pink. Some Kind of Wonderful. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I don’t know too many folk that fall within the parameters of Gen X that don’t regularly quote his movies. Demented and sad? But true. Hughes’s movies were ultimately about finding similarities in differences. But that’s what most teenagers want, to know that they are just like everyone else. So you want the slightly odd girl with the red hair and freckles to snag the dreamy hunk. You want the poor girl with the sensitive father to make sure Mr. Richie Rich knows he is going to be held accountable for his actions. You even want Ducky, in all his seemingly closeted homosexuality, to find someone to go to prom with. You want to know you are not alone, that the chasm sized differences that seem insurmountable really aren’t that wide. All it takes is a little leap of faith.
I didn’t go to my own prom, instead I went to an AC/DC concert. Instead of wearing a Jessica Mclintok dress and puking my guts up after too many shots of peppermint schnapps, I shook it all night long with Angus Young. Don’t be fooled. The reason I didn’t go to my prom was because no one asked me to go to the prom. As far as plot and drama go, my story has infinitely more possibilities. But that’s now, two decades later. But at the time, remember, I was 17. I wanted someone to ask me. Alas I had emo-goth hair and I was in the National Honor Society and I listened to Love and Rockets and Siouxsie (and AC/DC) and was about the furthest thing from a prom court candidate as you could get. Still, it would have been nice to have had the choice.
Despite being prom-deprived, looking back at high school, I have reasonably fond memories. Sure, there was the odd comment about my hairstyle choices, but overall, I don’t remember it being terrible. One of my (still) best friends was a cheerleader. Before my hair got too weird, I went out with the quarterback for a while. And while my town wasn’t as segregated into rich and poor, right side of the tracks and wrong as in the movies, the cliques were present and accounted for. The jocks. The geeks. The burn-outs. Perhaps my obvious decisions to look different, to listen to different music, to have different plans and different dreams–perhaps those things made my time easier in a way. I made it pretty obvious what I thought by the way I looked. It was a conscious choice. I wasn’t trying to fit it, I was trying to stand out. My opinions and my choices were as obvious as if they were written in permanent marker on my book covers.
It’s also possible I am simply revisiting history through the soft focus of time.
Life today seems about as far removed from my own day as High School Musical is from Sixteen Candles. I won’t pretend to even begin to understand what teenage life is like today. I can’t imagine what it is like to have every move, every thought, every bad hair day and questionable outfit tweeted and instagramed and Face Booked for the world to see. It’s instantaneous, it’s gratuitous, it’s widespread. Today every thought is made public, every move is documented with photographic evidence, every rumor magnified a thousand fold by the existence of cyber-space. And it’s there forever. 4-eva. 2 good 2 B 4gotten. When you are 14 or 15 or 16, you think you’ll never get over it, but you do. But when it’s out there for the world to see, it takes a lot longer for everyone else to forget.
I turned out okay, just like Molly Ringwald did . I even got the dreamy guy and my own version of 2.5 kids and the picket fence (which is pretty far removed from 2.5 kids and a picket fence, but it’s my version and that’s what counts). I want my own children to feel confident in what they enjoy, whether it be chess, drama club, soccer, golf, skateboarding or ballet. I want them to wear what they like and not worry about someone snapping a picture of it on their iPhone and broadcasting it to the world with a snarky caption. But I don’t know if that is possible anymore. I want them to feel confident in their geeky, nerdy, jock-y selves if that’s the path they choose. Because they are my kids though, I’m sure they will rebel by announcing they are joining the Young Republicans Club.
Sometimes I wish it could be as easy for them as it was in a John Hughes film. That a Saturday morning in detention would convince them that they are all in it together, that you can’t judge someone by what they wear or what music they listen or what sports they play or clubs they belong to. Because we are all made up of more than that. No one should be defined by a moment, an outfit, a hairstyle.
I hope my children have their own Breakfast Club moments. The ones that make growing up even a little easier.